COLUMBUS — This is the game Ohio State has been building toward.
The rosters aren’t quite the same, and the season certainly hasn’t been the same. But the Buckeyes have been asking for a rematch with the Tigers since Dec. 28, 2019, when Ohio State felt like it outplayed Clemson despite coming up short of a semifinal win and a shot to play for a national title.
So everything since then has been about getting back to this game. And the Buckeyes are ready to go in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
“Coming off of that game, we just didn’t get over it in one day,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said on Sunday. “It took time. As we got into spring ball, we started to move forward, and then the quarantine happened. The goal was to get back into the situation. We were in the same situation a year ago. And once that game was over, we wanted to get back here.”
Day is going to need to coach his best game, and the Buckeyes are going to have to play at the highest level to take down Clemson, which is at the top of college football alongside Ohio State and Alabama. And the Buckeyes are going to need massive performances from some of their stars to advance to the national title game.
Lettermen Row is breaking down five Buckeyes who have to come up big for to finally beat the Tigers in the College Football Playoff.
RB Trey Sermon
After struggling to find momentum on the ground in his first four games this season, Trey Sermon has figured it all out in the last two Buckeyes outings, running for 443 yards and three touchdowns against Michigan State and Northwestern. In the Fiesta Bowl last season against Clemson, the Buckeyes established the run with J.K. Dobbins and built a lead in the first half. Sermon could be the key to doing that again for Ryan Day’s offense. After a record-setting performance in the Big Ten title game, the breakout has already arrived for Sermon. Now, he needs to carry that momentum into the Sugar Bowl, where he’ll need to come up big for the Buckeyes again.
DB Shaun Wade
Shaun Wade made one of the biggest headlines in the Fiesta Bowl against Clemson a year ago when he was ejected for targeting, a call that changed the trajectory of the game from the moment it happened. He came back to Ohio State for another shot at a national title, and now he has it. Wade hasn’t played his best football so far this season, but the Buckeyes will need him to play at a high level at cornerback against Trevor Lawrence, talented Clemson receivers and the passing attack that can break defenses with ease. If Wade can play up to his potential, the defense will have a chance to slow down the Tigers.
WR Chris Olave
The sting from last season’s loss to Clemson especially hurt Chris Olave, who broke off his route on the last drive of the game in the end zone, resulting in a Justin Fields interception that ended the game and the national-title hopes. Olave was crushed after that game, and now he is back to avenge the loss with another shot to take down the Tigers. After missing the Big Ten title game, Olave should be ready to go for the Sugar Bowl, where he’ll be needed to help the Buckeyes passing attack that struggled in its last time out. And with Tigers safety Nolan Turner out for the first half due to a targeting foul in the ACC title game, Ohio State might have an advantage in the opening two quarters with Olave.
DTs Haskell Garrett, Tommy Togiai
The two defensive tackles have arguably been the best players on the roster all season. Tommy Togiai and Haskell Garrett have dominated opposing offensive lines, stuffed the run and made life miserable for quarterbacks trying to stand in the pocket to throw. Against Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne, the best quarterback-running back combination in the country, Togiai and Garrett will need to be run-stuffers like they have been, while still applying pressure and forcing Lawrence to become uncomfortable — which isn’t easy to do. The Buckeyes have to have the best versions of Togiai and Garrett.
QB Justin Fields
Fields, the leader of the Buckeyes offense, two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and potential top-five NFL draft selection, hasn’t played his best football in two of the last three Ohio State games. After totaling just three interceptions in his first 17 games at Ohio State, Fields has thrown five in his last three times out, causing him to fall out of Heisman Trophy contention. If the Buckeyes are going to beat Clemson for the first time in program history on their way to a national title appearance, Fields will need t0 be the best quarterback in the Superdome — better than Trevor Lawrence.